"A Reason for Living" is Laurent Grenier’s extremely moving story of his triumph over a disabling injury as he found meaning in life despite everything. Part autobiography, part philosophical essay, "A Reason for Living" looks back on the author’s past – his active, athletic youth abruptly interrupted by his diving accident, which left him a near quadriplegic and led to further hardships – and shows us the way to fulfillment against great odds through the courageous pursuit of wisdom and happiness.
"My diving accident was a misfortune that deprived me extensively of my life’s meaning. It was also a chance to discover a deeper and truer reason for living. Why live? See what my answer is. I trust it will help you live a more meaningful and fulfilling life." L. G.
FURTHER INTRO TO THE BOOK: Hardship often serves as the catalyst that promotes existential questioning and turns many a soul into a philosophical one. Who are indeed likely to ponder on the meaning of life but those who are at a loss to conceive of this meaning, owing to their daily struggle with suffering while they yearn after joy? Some may search for enlightenment and serenity in the church and discover a doctrine of love and salvation that arouses in them a sense of having found their true home after a period of painful wandering. Others – rationalists by nature – may walk skeptically and wistfully past the square that leads to this place of worship. They are lonesome seekers of wisdom and happiness as the riddle of life boggles their minds and torments their hearts. "A Reason for Living" was written for them, in an effort to help them view life in a most positive, meaningful way. It complements rather than opposes the Christian viewpoint, though it does call certain aspects of it into question. The purpose of the book is largely therapeutic, not merely polemical. It proceeds from a dogged determination to provide a legitimate and salutary answer to the ever so pressing question "Why live?" It is about helping people lead wiser and happier lives – especially educated and inquiring people who not only are hungry for such an improvement, but also are committed to going to great lengths to satisfy this hunger.
Furthermore – and this adds to the unique and resolute positiveness of the book – "A Reason for Living" is both philosophical and autobiographical, and does more than deliver a message; it sets an example. It is a worldview and a life story, the latter serving as a backdrop for the former in a very illustrative, relevant, and convincing way. The author – now 48, a once teenage athlete who became severely disabled due to a sports injury and slowly rebuilt his life from the ground up by dint of considerable efforts (including much study and reflection) – thinks what he says and lives it. His words are all the more credible and inspiring as they are matched by his actions.
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Excerpt from the chapter "Happiness"
From the creative explosion marking the outset of the universe to our advanced human stage in evolution, some fifteen billion years have elapsed. This advanced stage refers to the natural abilities and the cultural realizations of our species. While these natural abilities have virtually not changed in the last hundred thousand years, these cultural realizations have progressed exponentially over the same period. The former depend on a biological memory – the genetic information that is stored in human cells and can be transmitted through reproduction. The latter depend on a social memory – the didactic information that is stored in human libraries and can be transmitted through education. Together these two memories and modes of transmission supply the necessary tools to perpetuate and ameliorate humanity. The problem is that humans rarely use these tools to the maximum. They reproduce very well; more than five billion people testify to that; but they could do better in every other respect, witness the many instances of weakness and wickedness that tarnish their image.
Having said this, their existence can never be perfect. The worthiness and especially the effectiveness of their efforts will always be limited and perfectible. Such is their human condition. They can achieve great things, thank God! Yet this greatness cannot be absolute, thank God again! This imperfection hides a sublime advantage that can only be fathomed and cherished by a life lover. It ensures the maintenance of a dynamic state in pursuit of fulfillment, which is essential for the act, the dignity, and the joy of living.
Conversely, the attainment of infinite health, strength, pleasure, wisdom, glory, wealth, and every other object of one's desires would amount to an infinite satisfaction that would kill these desires. This attainment is impossible because it is incompatible with life. Perfection and death go together like two inseparable lovers in a single tomb. They send a shiver down my spine. Who can look on death as the ideal of life? Perfection is fit for a stone. It may appeal to a wretchedly tired soul in dire need of a rest. Dead, however, would this soul not adopt the opposite stance after a lengthy bout of mineral tranquility? Would it not dream of having a second chance to live and love life?
Many may think that the human condition could be better without being perfect. What is the meaning of this betterment, which bears no relation to the one that ought to be accomplished by human means within the limits of this condition? Do many wish God would increase these means or reduce these limits? For what purpose? To make life easier? Closer to death! Can they not see the beauty of the imperfection as it is? Can they not appreciate that the peak of human fulfillment entails a steep mountain to climb and the constant risk of falling?
Admittedly, it is hard not to lament one's challenging human condition while painfully struggling to rise to the challenge, especially if the difficulties are serious and numerous in the extreme. Correlatively, it is hard then not to reckon that there is room for improvement in the creation. I for one have long indulged in this sort of lamenting and reckoning. With hindsight, I am now in a good position to size up my error. God was not to blame for my unhappiness at the time; my attitude was at fault. I had failed to realize that the extreme difficulties I was faced with were exceptional opportunities for spiritual development and enlightenment, just as an obstacle can keep ivy in the dark and become the instrument of its ascension to a superior place in the sun.
I do not regret having gone through years of foolishness and suffering. I count them as labor pains for the birth of wisdom and happiness. They accentuate the brightness of my later years inasmuch as their gloominess contrasts with it. This brightness is spiritual, a sense of purpose and serenity that transcends my physical disability and pain, which are incurably restricting and excruciating. My body has remained practically as it was, whereas my spirit has improved significantly. I resemble someone who is using the same glass, but has changed its content from a nauseous brew to a luscious nectar.
What if the worst had come to the worst? I could have lacked the means of turning my ill fortune to good account. Whether this lack would have been due to a mental disorder that was without hope or to adverse circumstances that were without hope does not matter. The point is that my life would then have been hopeless, seemingly absurd. In fact, it would have had a meaning from a broader viewpoint portraying it as an unfortunate event in the life of humanity, capable of fulfillment. My individual existence is a minute aspect of my human existence. I look at myself past my ego and identify with the divine principle within me, which is common to all humans, to say nothing of everything else in the universe. I am fundamentally it and consequently us.
Still, life is too hard and too risky in the eyes of many. By contrast, others are such proponents of a virile existence, demanding great courage and giving great pride, that they are ready to leave the coziness of their home to scale Mount Everest and breast the elements for the sheer joy of conquering the summit. Whatever the perspective, the nature of things remains unchanged. There are rules, necessities and duties, and limits, possibilities and impossibilities. Until doom, one can accept them and make the best of them, much to one's pleasure and honor, or one can do the opposite and suffer the consequences. The choice between these two options is the very essence of freedom. Personally, I have no use for the second option: a self-inflicted misery that is without the slightest doubt a pitiable way of life.
The first option, on the other hand, is a pleasurable and honorable alternative that I find compelling, though uphill. It is applicable to any situation encountered in the course of one's living venture, provided one is not unfortunate to the point of being hopelessly unable to cope. The range of this applicability corresponds with the range of one's adaptability. It is normally considerable, despite the tendency to cling to old gratifying habits even after they have become impracticable or unsuitable, owing to a change of situation. One can be weaned from such habits onto new gratifying habits, in the same way as a baby can be weaned onto solids. The more the change is significant and one is reluctant to adapt to it, the more the weaning process is difficult and long in producing the desired effect. Again, the only option worthy of one's attention consists in taking things as they come and making the most of them, for one's sake and that of others. The reverse is foolish and harmful, a deplorable waste of humanity.
On the whole, the power to live in a well-adjusted and high-minded way and the freedom to choose this way in preference to the alternate, illegitimate, way are the foundations of the life one builds. The exercise of this power does not necessarily imply a principled resignation toward the status quo. One may be faced with a remediable evil that calls for a struggle to remedy it, effectively and rightly. In that case, living in a well-adjusted and high-minded way entails accepting the need for this struggle and the means of waging it, and sparing no effort to attain one's end. Ills are a test of will, an opportunity to show dignity.
They are also an opportunity to probe and appraise one's inner resources. Over the years, I have improved my situation and especially my attitude, whose negativity was the most unfavorable and improvable aspect of my life. In so doing, I have discovered my true richness. Nature has endowed me with an adaptable capacity for happiness within the limits of my changeable reality. According to my observations, this capacity is not unusually great, compared with that of most people. I am even tempted to think it is somewhat lagging behind. Eleven years plus to adapt in triumph to my physical disability is no feat for the Guinness Book of World Records!
During that time, the riddle of life had more or less baffled me. Yet, laboriously, with the help of many books and much thought, I had managed by degrees to clear it up, enough to find a meaning to my life. This riddle is comparable to a mire: The slower you go through it, the deeper you get into it. Perhaps thinkers are commonly untalented in the art of living and their saving grace is their dogged determination to redeem this lack of talent by dint of studying the human soul. Amusingly enough, these untalented individuals are often perceived as gifted, once they have seen the light and reflected it with the numerous mirrors of an elaborate analysis, after a tentative and protracted search in the dark.
This sort of overcompensation is typical of people who experience difficulties in a certain area, but refuse to admit defeat. While some fare well in this area with a minimum of effort, they try hard to overcome these difficulties, with the result that they often fare better than the others. Their redeeming feature is their willpower in the face of their shortcoming, which they use as a reason to redouble their efforts, not as an excuse to throw in the towel. This is a recipe for a worthy success. They discipline and surpass themselves, and thus proudly turn things around.
Through the years, I have met… remarkable persons, who had much experience and wisdom. When their situation turned rather bad, they said, 'I have seen worse,' and they kept cheerful. To them, a trouble that was not disastrous was petty, a mere inconvenience not worthy of a single tear. They did not indulge in wistful, wasteful thoughts either. They simply dealt with things in the most favorable way. I admire their no-nonsense attitude toward life, which can prove messy. I imagine their motto: Don’t whine, nor cuss; tackle the muss and clear it up, or grin and bear it!
All in all, they were well-adjusted realists who believed detriment and merriment can coexist when the former leaves room for something that makes life worth living, loving, despite everything. The secret is balance: The worse the detriment, the better this something must be to compensate for it and bring merriment. Great achievers are often great sufferers who had the will and the ability to redeem their condition with a profound dignity and joy in the pursuit and attainment of a high goal. Other great sufferers, of lesser will and ability, either lived passively and bitterly or killed themselves. In short, suffering enervates the weak and motivates the strong. Yet, beware! The strong may be weak at first and yield to morbid temptations or contemplate suicide for some considerable time; but at last they discover and develop the strength beneath their weakness, like a seed that lies in the parched soil of a neglected pot and needs the care of a flower lover to grow and bloom, and generate wonder.